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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ding-dong the season's dead

143 games, 58 wins, 82 losses.

Well, the Dragons have failed to see October for the 4th year straight as we bow out in our worst position in the league in 19 years. A 4 straight years of "B-Class" (wins under 50%) results is the worst in club history since the 2-league system was introduced. We're going through some dark times and to be honest it doesn't look like it's going to get much better in the near future.

I'm going to take this opportunity to do a bit of a season wrap-up with some broad strokes while I'll take another look at the 2015 draft class in another post in a similar vein to what I did at the all-star break. I'll then give a run down of the most recent news regarding free agencies, the draft and staff movements in my next post.

Right, well, where to begin. At the beginning of the season, I like many others had my expectations relatively low for the Dragons and I predicted them to finish second last. My expectation were raised slightly however in the opening quarter of the season as the Dragons managed to keep pace with the league leaders due to a bit of sparkling form from Shuhei Takahashi, Ricardo Nanita and Dayan Viciedo as well as a bit of luck running into some teams that hadn't sorted their stuff out. As we progressed to the middle of the season there were some hopeful moments where we were still in play-off contention and the optimist in me thought this team in reconstruction might just have enough in the tank to get into the final play-off spot. However after a bit of dip and then the acrimonious sacking of manager Motonobu Tanishige, the team never looked like going anywhere but the bottom two places. The Dragons were somewhat lucky that the Tigers at times made us look good, but in the end we crawled to a very poor end to the season capped off by two extra innings losses to the Giants in Tokyo, one a grand slam given up by probably our best player of  the season, Shinji Tajima and another, final inning goodbye see you later loss tossed up by Daisuke Sobue.


Let's first talk a little about the heroes of this season. Shinji Tajima with his 31 scoreless innings from opening day probably tops the lot. He created a new NPB record for doing so, and equalled a club record set by Akifumi Takahashi (now of the Tigers) for consecutive scoreless innings/games pitched. Tajima probably would have even more impressive stats if he hadn't been called up to become the team's closing pitcher. Despite being brought into the piece fairly late he still earned 17 saves to go along with his 21 hold points. He ends the season with a 3-4 record and a 2.44 ERA. Certainly another great successor to the line of bullpen pitchers the Dragons have produced over the years. He was recognised for his efforts as he collected the "Crown Award" from Chunichi which is a gift of a new model Toyota Crown to the player considered to the best during the season.

Our bullpen pitchers are just about the only thing I can't complain about. Toshiya Okada, Katsuki Matayoshi and Ryuya Ogawa all did magnificently well in my opinion. Ogawa had a bit of a breakout season this year and his 0.947 WHIP really impressed me. Okada has been a mainstay in the bullpen along with Matayoshi and I think we have a lot of depth in this area. Hiroto Fuku and Yu Sato, the rookies this year took part in relief sessions here and there and did their jobs without being spectacular. Also kudos to Daisuke Sobue who started the season as the second team closer and ended up being the late innings reliever in the first team; a 1.087 WHIP rating for him.

Starting Rotation

As for starting pitchers, most have been terribly unlucky with getting wins due to a terrible Kazuki Yoshimi came back into the team after surgery last season and held down his spot in the rotation. He went 6-7 this year but certainly deserved better. There was one game against the Tigers this year that he had to win by himself as he hit the winning RBI in a 1-0 win. He pitched 131 innings this year which is the most work he's done since 2012 which is a good sign going forward. Still only 31, he'll be a mainstay for a few more years to come. A 3.08 ERA is still a little bit high considering his early career stats, but still, the veteran did extremely well this year in difficult circumstances.
offense, but

Jordan Norberto, the first year Dominican, was another bright light in the rotation and his ability to keep opposing batters off foot with his ability to hurry through pitches was very effective particularly in the opening half of the season. As the season progressed however I got a feeling that batters got a better read on him and he started leaking more runs. He ended the season with a 6-6 record and a fairly high ERA of 4.24. His 108 strikeouts for the season was a team high.

Yudai Ono worked his socks off as the season's proclaimed ace this year and on the second game he played when he returned from injury he pitched a very solid shut out which I thought was going to be the start of a rebirth. Not so apparently. In decisions this year Ono was 7-10 and 5th in total strikeouts for the Dragons. He wasn't particularly bad but not particularly outstanding. He was however one of the hardest workers with 3 completed games and over 120 innings pitched.

Raul Valdes the Cuban veteran showed his usefulness and was the second best starter behind Jordan in terms of strikeouts per 9 innings. A 6-7 record is certainly respectable given his age and the ability of the team but he also gave up the most homeruns of the pitchers with 17 of his pitches clearing the fences.

I would last of all like to talk in detail about Ryosuke Oguma who has impressed me a lot. He
went out injured in the first third of the season and it took him a long while to get back but his stats are the best of the starters. He had a 5-2 record in 8 starts, the best winning percentage of any starter aside from Yu Sato who only started and won one game. An ERA of 2.80 also doesn't look too bad when you assess his contribution overall and I would dare say he may well have won 10 games this year had he been fit. In his first start of the year he shut down the Baystars with a 93 ball, 1 hit shutout in Nagoya. He was the only Chunichi to get a shut-out this year apart from Ono. I think we can grow to expect a bit more from the man whose name translates to "little bear."

I could go on forever about our starters, but these are the main guys I felt worthy of mention. I will of course talk about the trials and tribulations of our 2015 #1 draft pick Shinnosuke Ogasawara in another post as his story is a nice one to tell.


This is where the stories get a bit dark, but the main thing to come out of it was Yohei "Even Year" Oshima who came out to play this year cracking a .298 BA and hitting for the cycle in the process. He finished second in the central league charts for hits behind Ryosuke Kikuchi of the Carp with 174 and 3rd in stolen bases behind Tetsuto Yamada and Kikuchi with 26 (although he was caught stealing 12 times. If my SABR thinking is right, that's a really poor success rate). As our lead-off hitter he really did his job this season after being fairly bang average last year. A bright to slightly dimmed light in a very dark season.

For most improved bat of the season I have it as a two way tie between Shuhei Takahashi and Nobumasa Fukuda, both coincidentally guys that played the majority of the season at 3rd base. Takahashi went ham in his first 20 or so games averaging over .400 with a few homers and all the rest. That of course quietened down a bit but he still was performing well until he broke a bone in his hand to enforce an extended break on the sidelines.  In that time, the Dragons tried all manners of stop-gap solutions at 3rd base with Tetsuya Tani, Naomichi Donoue and Masahiko Morino among others brought in to try and make the position their own. It wasn't however until Fukuda was given the green light that we started seeing more production at that position. Fukuda went on to hit a personal best 10 homeruns this year with a .744 OPS and a .265 average. He finished the season in left field to accommodate the return of Takahashi who showed some of his early season prowess and ended with a .251/.319/.369 slash line.

Both I think had outbreak seasons this year and if Ricardo Nanita isn't retained, we might see Fukuda out the left pocket to add a bit more pop to the line-up if Viciedo and Takahashi remain the incumbents at 1st and 3rd respectively. Masahiko Morino also made a bit of a statement when Viciedo was injured claiming the highest OBP of any of the Dragons batter this season. It might well be a headache for selection next year.

Dayan Viciedo of course is the man that has probably attracted the most attention and his 22 homers helped the Dragons about as much as could be hoped. He hit fairly well for average at .272 and was third in the team for most walks behind Hirata and Oshima. He was also third in hits for team behind Oshima and Naomichi Donoue. Injuries cut short his season, but the Dragons are in talks to keep him on and there's a good chance he could be producing even better next year.

Lastly a couple of mentions for Donoue and Hirata. Donoue became the starting short-stop this year after an injury to Issei Endo and his defense has been nothing short of fantastic. He only hit .257 this year but put wood on ball enough times to tally 116 hits for the season.

Hirata too had a good season when fit going over the fence 14 times in a personal best season. A .248 BA  is pretty disappointing however but he was the most walked player on the team taking the short jog to first base 72 times.

I could go on about others, like Nanita, but I don't want to make this entry any more encylopedic than it has to be.


Just a little appendage here about the catchers. We started the season with Iori Katsura and Shota Sugiyama  battling it out to be everyday catcher and I think we finished with Takuya Kinoshita and Sugiyama as the two most likely candidates going forward. Sugiyama started the majority of games this season but Kinoshita showed very good promise with the bat in the limited time he was given. I was expecting at the beginning of the season for there to be a 3 way battle for the catcher's mitt this year and there has been. Sugiyama hit a .260/.340/.357 slash line in probably one of the best batting performances from a Chunichi catcher in some time.

I feel sorry for Katsura in a way who is a very talented catcher in his own right, but he'll be either put to work on the farm or maybe looked at as a trade chip. But who am I kidding, nobody trades anyone in the NPB.

Against the others

We had a terrible record against Hiroshima (7-17)  and Yakult (9-16) this year. No surprise that both teams have two of the best batting line-ups in the league either as most of the time we were well out gunned.

The only team we had a winning record against was the Giants (13-11) which is a welcome surprise. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we got away the most hits against the Giants out of all Central league opponents with 227 hits. ERA as well was the best at 2.91 second to DeNA with 2.99. Given that the Giants finished 2nd this year,  I think this is one of the positives we can take away from the year. At least we were a nuisance for Yomiuri. That is satisfying.


Honestly, it has been a terrible season. With all the back office drama to go with the results it's just awful. I've experienced a very similar thing with the Twins in the MLB this year so needless to say that uh, baseball hasn't been nice to me this year.

The Dragons still really haven't overcome the losses of their veterans but I am confident with the pitching side of things. If we can get in one more quality starter in the draft this year, the rotation will be pretty set for the next 3 or 4 years. We have quite a few young guys that can come in and do things in the bullpen (although Mori wants to bring in foreign help, probably a closer) and there are others that given a bit of luck could develop into really good starting arms in the future.

Our batting however worried me. With Oshima and Hirata looking at the free agent market, we would be dead without them at the current time. There is no one in the Dragons system that can do what these two do and losing them would kill our hopes of winning anything in the near future or getting into A-Rank season territory. There is the potential in this team, even in the bats, to produce some really solid hitting but it hasn't come about yet. I  do however think that we discovered a lot this year about who can do what and I think that is important. Next year production at short-stop will be I think a key point of interest and it will be on Donoue and possibly Endo to get their batting up to a good standard. Left-field will also be another interesting position going forward given Nanita's injuries and age and Fukuda's recent experience there. We'll see what happens.

For the time being. All I can say was, well, at least that's over now.

Monday, October 3, 2016

It's October! Post-season Fallout

There is so much stuff that's going on in the fallout from this season that I'm still trying to figure out the best way to parse it all out into different blog posts. For the time being I've decided I'm going to use this post to put up news and we'll go from there. I have another post that will come later regarding my thoughts about the season passed. 

Let's get into it:

Manager Hunt

Well, the Japanese media had forever pointed at Michihiro Ogasawara to be getting a big promotion to lead the Dragons first team at the end of the season. So incessant were the rumours, that I didn't even think of the possibility of another very obvious choice. Keep the interim manager on. This is in the end the option that the Owner Mr Shirai has gone with as Shigekazu Mori, the former head coach and interim manager, was given the reigns for the 2017 season. 
Mori looks like he'd be more at home in a Yakuza flick.
The former Seibu Lions closer has been with the Dragons for a good long while now having two stints with the team as coach between 2004-2011 under Ochiai, and 2013-2016 under Tanishige. He was originally brought back into the team to help Tanishige while he was transitioning from player-manager to full-time manager but after being given the interim job, it seems that he has showed enough to be kept on full-time. The key reasons given for his hiring has been mainly down to experience needed to rebuild an under performing team which is why he was given the position over Ogasawara. 
After there being rumours that Tanishige didn't have the best of relationships with upper management, including Ochiai, it is possible that Mori is the yes man that will smooth over a lot of these formerly rocky situations allowing those ahead of him to make decisions without getting in the way. That's perhaps too cynical an interpretation, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

This then brings the question regarding Ochiai's continuation as general manager. His contract is up in January and while he'll be taking care of the draft picks for the October 22nd meeting, he may well not be here next year. President Shirai has left the decision up to Ochiai as to whether or not he'll stay on, but the appointment of Mori makes me think there might be a little more life in Ochiai's reign just yet. We'll see though. He was reportedly not present when negotiations started with Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata over extending their stays with the team but that may be more a face saving issue rather than a operational one. Ochiai's abrasive attitude may not be the best mix for the negotiation table for two key pieces of a team that finished last. 

Free Agents/Retirements/Releases

As mentioned, Hirata and Oshima have finally started talks with the team as club spokesman Senor Nishiyama has told the press he has started talks with them. He will be conducted the talks alone. Mori has declared his that both players are important to the future of the team and we might even see the Dragons dig into their wallets to keep them both in Nagoya. A wise choice if you ask me. 

Our foreign legion has yet to receive word of anything going forward, but Dayan Viciedo has voiced his desire to stay and the Dragons still want him. He, Juan Jaime and Anderson Hernandez all headed home for the off-season last week.

We have had some retirements toward the end of the season with Yudai "Sunday" Kawai, a multi-pennant winner with the Dragons and a record setter with 11 consecutive wins from starting day, as well as 29 year old Shinji Iwata whose no-spin fork ball was somewhat of a legend. Kawai and Iwata had been playing on the farm but it was becoming more and more clear that neither had a future with the team with the development of other players around them. Yudai was particularly average on the farm and Iwata had control issues. Both had send off matches against the Hanshin Tigers at the Nagoya dome where Iwata showed off his trademark forkball and Yudai threw down consecutive fastballs to finish off his illustrious career. 

Hitoshi Tamura, the former Baystars and Hawks slugger that came to the Dragons famously as the oldest man to sign a development/trainee contract, also signaled his retirement after he was told by management that they would not be renewing his contract. Tamura played mostly as a DH on the farm and batted .279 with 8 RBIs in 43 at bats. He had his issues with injury to begin the season, but it was clear that his playing days were coming to a close with younger players like Takeru Furumoto showing much better proficiency with the bat. His leadership with the team will however be missed as I'm sure a lot of the young players learned a lot from him.

Shota Oba, a cash-for-player signing from the Softbank Hawks in the 2015 off season has been told to find another club after barely featuring in the farm team. A starter cum reliever, Oba was a top prospect at the 2007 draft being chased by 6 teams at the time. He ended the farm team year having played 9 games pitching 22 innings for a 5.73ERA. Not exactly awe inspiring. Oba has yet to decide whether or not he will attempt to continue playing or retire. 

A 4th pitcher to join the pitching scrap heap is Kentaro Nishikawa who was the Dragons second draft pick in 2011. Given his time on the farm, he, uh, may have deserved to be cut. In 10.2 innings pitched he gave up 13 earned runs to give him the unflattering ERA of 10.97. Nishikawa never really excelled at this level. He pitched 12 games in the first team in 2013 with a 6.26 ERA and 6 games in 2015 for a 3.68 ERA. I think we have much better players than him in the team at the moment, and it was perhaps no surprise given his lack of improvement that he was told to seek greener pastures. 

Other releases include 3 development/trainee players; Takahiro Kawasaki, Kodai Ishigaki and Kaito Goya. Kawasaki has been with the Dragons since 2012 and has most recently played on loan with the Fukushima Hopes in the independent Baseball Challenge League. He was drafted on a professional contract at the 2011 Draft but was deemed unworthy of the status in 2014 where he resigned on a trainee contract. Second time around hasn't been successful for the young lad however. Goya was drafted last year and apparently lost his desire to play the game after seeing Ogasawara in the first-team at the same age. He's returning home to work at his father's courier business. Ishigaki had a case of the Ips and couldn't get his form back after some shoulder pain completely threw him off causing him to throw far too many walks. He apparently did get back to some version of his old self but the Dragons had seen enough.

Wish all these players the best in their future endeavours but that means now there's a few holes we can fill in the draft. Only one outfielder out of the 9 players leaving us this year, so expect pitching in the 2016 draft. (I do pray for a couple of sluggers though)

The Phoenix League

I love the name of this tournament and it makes it sound more glorious than it probably should be but the Dragons farm team will be taking off to Miyazaki prefecture to compete in the Phoenix League and annual tournament held for the best part of a month to help the development of younger players. All Western and Eastern League teams will be entered while they will also be joined by teams from the Doosan Bears, LG Twins and the Hanwha Eagles from the KBO and a selection from the Shikoku Island League Plus. Umpires from the NPB, KBO, Shikoku Island League Plus and Baseball Challenge league will be taking part. It starts today (October 3rd) and will run until the 24th. 

The Dragons have sent out a fairly competitive team this year with a few first team regulars scattered around. Shinnosuke Ogasawara is the main man not in the squad, but he will be taking time off to work on building strength in his lower body moving toward next season. 

Here's the roster:
*Bolded players took part in the first team this year

Pitchers: Shota Suzuki, Ryosuke Nomura, Koji Fukutani, Yuya Muto, Takuma Achira, Hiroto Fuku, Takeshi Kaneko, Junki Ito, Junki Kishimoto, Seiya Nakagawa, Shu Yoshida, Takuya Mitsuma

Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Takuma Kato, Shota Sugiyama

Infielders: Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Shun Ishikawa, Ryota Ishioka, Taiki Mitsumata, Hayato Mizowaki

Outfielders: Shota Tomonaga, Masataka Iryo, Takeru Furumoto, Hiroki Kondo, Masaru Watanabe

Takuya Mitsuma has been named as opening day pitcher, the first trainee player to do so for the Dragons. He'll be pitching against the Giants to start the tournament.
Koji Fukutani is set for a long relief role that he was so successful in in 2014 before his ill-fated stint as a closer. It will be interesting to see who will be the closer in this team however with most filling starting or mid-relief roles in the past. 

I'll try to keep up with the league and give a bit of analysis once it finished up at the end of the month. 

NB: The game for the 3rd has actually been called off (I'm guessing weather), Dragons play Yakult on the 4th.

Other News

In other more random news, Mori wants to bring in Masahiro Doi in as a full-time coach on his staff. The former Kintetsu Buffloes and Seibu Lions hitter worked with Shuhei Takahashi among others last off season. A well respected figure in Japanese baseball, it would perhaps be a good move to get him in to the team. 

Yudai Ono is working to add a curveball to his arsenal next season as he looks to diversify what he can deliver over the plate. Generally uses 3 or 4 pitches; a slider, forkball, fastball and a 2-seamer but a curve would be a good addition. 

Yuya Yanagi, the man likely to receive the Dragon first pick at the 2016 Draft notched his 20th win of the Tokyo University Big6 season with a 1 hitter in a dominant performance registering 13 strikeouts against Keio University.